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It's time to pull the plug on Google Stadia

Stadia was launched in 2019 and was set to be the breakthrough for streamed gaming, where the mega-rich Google invested heavily in exclusive games to support the platform. But... everything went awry, what really happened?

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It has now been almost two and a half years since the release of Stadia. The potential was sky-high because Google said it had first-class technology for streamed games, powered by hardware almost equivalent to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. In addition, they had recruited plenty of top people to make games, made a clever solution for the controller and succeeded in the hyping-up work.

People outside the inner games circles were simply aware of Stadia's existence, and with Google's vast resources behind it, there was an undeniable potential for something that could shake up the gaming world. After all, if streamed games could work as well as locally rendered ones, there's no need for PCs or consoles. But, at the same time, there were birds of ill omen circling.

It's time to pull the plug on Google Stadia
We have plenty to say about the Stadia controller, which can connect itself to Wi-Fi to minimise lag.

Google didn't have the best reputation when it came to keeping products alive. If something doesn't go as well as expected, they usually unsentimentally kill the product and move on to the next one. While anyone who bought an original Xbox, PS Vita or Wii U (three hardware products that must be considered commercial flops) could continue playing games on them in perpetuity whether purchased physically or downloaded - the situation for Stadia was different.

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Google wanted to sell full-price games, rather than rely on a subscription-like solution like Xbox Game Pass. But buying a game for $60 that would be gone forever if Google got tired of the concept scared many. Moreover, a subscription was still required for those who wanted to play at higher resolutions and get more features (although in fairness, the games included each month with the subscription made it at least as affordable as what Microsoft and Sony have to offer with Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus).

The fact that Google had no real familiarity with the gaming world was also revealed as the launch approached. The service was surprisingly barebones and didn't even have the most basic or promised features. What you could do with Stadia, was play games, and not much else.

It's time to pull the plug on Google Stadia
Several well-known players in the gaming world from both Microsoft and Sony were recruited by Google. As was Jade Raymond ( Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs ) who would be a leader of the project.

At this point, I would like to state that this particular part of Stadia actually works incredibly well. So well that I think everyone who gets the chance should try it out. Since then, several similar services have been launched with varying degrees of success, with Xbox Cloud Gaming in particular managing to become big. But! There is no doubt that the level of the streaming technology is better in Google's version.

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But better hardware that doesn't sell as well as you might think has been seen before. Some classic examples are how the Nintendo 64 technically ran circles around the PlayStation but still only sold just over a third of the units, or how the Xbox completely crushed the PlayStation 2 performance-wise - but still only sold around a seventh of Sony's alternative. Because it takes lots of good games, a clear vision and what consumers want to sell a lot.

It's time to pull the plug on Google Stadia
Fortunately, not all games have gone to Stadia, even though Cyberpunk 2077 actually worked better than both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on the platform at launch.

Google had missed all this. Although they had some exclusive games at launch, they were mainly lower-budget titles, and just a year after launch they dropped the first-party game venture altogether. Now that doesn't mean there's a lack of games, and there are plenty added every month, but there are big gaps in the range compared to what Microsoft and Sony offer. It's an exception rather than commonplace that the biggest third-party titles are added. Even if you don't have to buy a new console, there's so much missing that it's simply hard to recommend Stadia as an alternative to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X or a fancy PC - or for that matter an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription for those who want to stream games.

But it gets worse, because even when games do come, the entertainment is far inferior to other formats. Vital patches take much longer and some tragically don't arrive at all. This means that Stadia players cannot even fully enjoy the games that do actually get released, as they often don't work as well as they should and suffer from major flaws.

It's time to pull the plug on Google StadiaIt's time to pull the plug on Google Stadia
The games that will make us buy Stadia today usually consist of timed-exclusives such as Bomberman and Pac-Man, which of course is not enough in the long run.

Google also initially promised to expand the performance of the Stadia effort so games would render with better graphics. But even this they have not lived up to with the consequence that Google Stadia today runs games with performance below what the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X are capable of. This while Xbox Cloud Gaming was recently upgraded so all games are rendered by Xbox Series X hardware.

At this point, paying dearly to buy games for Stadia that will be gone forever the day Google pulls the plug doesn't seem like something I can imagine doing myself anymore. This particular one feels like a flawed strategy from the start, something Amazon learned for its game-streaming system Luna. Here you instead pay for a subscription and get access to a hefty selection of games, instead of having to buy them one by one at a high price without knowing if I'll actually get to keep what I bought. It feels more worthwhile and more like Netflix, for example, although Luna also has a problem with its game selection - Amazon seems driven enough to actually want to solve this with its own big games though.

It's time to pull the plug on Google StadiaIt's time to pull the plug on Google Stadia
Amazon Luna has just been officially launched in the US and Xbox Cloud Gaming is getting bigger. Sony also filed its own counterpart, and Stadia today sadly feels completely redundant despite incredible technology.

Today, I don't think there's anything Google can do to save Stadia. Even if they fixed many of the flaws with features and with the basic technology being very good, it's damaged goods. More games and the introduction of a more affordable subscription wouldn't help. And should Google try to relaunch Stadia under a new name, I think the media would see this strategy for what it is pretty quickly.

In short: it's high time to pull the plug on Stadia. The technology is good and should be able to be sold to someone else, but Google's time in the gaming world really feels over and unfortunately I don't think it brought much to the table either, although I'm certainly an advocate of competition. Google has shown from the outset that as a gaming company they don't understand either gamers or game developers, and it is precisely this that has meant that the service has never managed to become more than a niche gaming product on the market, despite being given away for free at times.

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